A network of terror.
In September 1992 the Iranian Kurdish leader Said Charafkandi was murdered in Berlin's Mykonos restaurant along with three other Kurdish activists in Germany for a political convention. The Mafia-style shoot out was immediately attributed to Iran.
The trial of the murder suspects, which began in October 1993, has been denounced as "a sham" by Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. "I categorically reject that anybody in the Iranian government, or with any connections to the Iranian government . . . would be involved in any kind of (terrorist) activity outside of our territory. The Iranian government has no relation whatsoever to these cases", he affirmed.
However, the Berlin Court is not convinced. Indeed, the German judicial authorities are so convinced of the Iranian government's responsibility for the assassinations that in March 1996 the Federal Supreme Court issued an international arrest warrant for Intelligence Minister All Fallahian.
One of the most important witnesses in the case has been former Iranian president Abol Hassan Bani Sadr who told the court the Mykonos murder had been personally ordered by Ayatollah All Khamanei, Iran's chief religious leader, and President All Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In a recent interview with The Middle East, former president Bani Sadr elaborated on some of the points he made in Berlin:
The Middle East: What did you reveal about the Iranian regime's activities against its opponents abroad?
Bani Sadr: "Information and facts by themselves, don't tell much if one does not explain the ties which link them, if one does not show their structure with a revealing global outlook. That is what I did. I broke up the terrorist structure of the. Iranian state. I showed that there are 17 organisations, located in different ministries, in charge of terrorism. I was able to tell the prosecutor at Berlin: 'Here are the networks, with their functions, here are the chiefs, with their names'. Each piece of information, each fact, then fitted exactly in this frame. To the point that the prosecutor told me: 'Now, everything is clear!' But more than anything else, I explained that within the framework of the Vilayat Fakih, Iran's constitutional law, to sentence somebody to death is the decision of the Guide (Ayatollah Khamanei). Nobody else can do it, neither a mullah, nor a minister. Ideologically, it's not possible to have somebody killed without a religious sentence issued by the Guide himself. It cannot be a political decision. The Iranian regime cannot deny what I am saying, and when they say that I am insulting Khamenei, they are in fact acknowledging that these murders are not justified from a religious point of view."
TME: You are accusing the top Iranian leaders of being guilty of taking the decision to murder their opponents?
Bani Sadr: "Absolutely. In 1987, President Rafsanjani issued the order to create a special council for affairs which should remain absolutely secret and not subject to decisions or discussion by the Majlis (Parliament). These secret affairs included confidential contacts with foreign countries, arms purchases and the manhunt of opponents. The members of this council include Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Velayati (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Besharati (Interior Minister), Fallahian (Intelligence Minister), Mohsen Rezai (Commander of the Revolutionary Guards), Reyshari, (former head of the secret services, now head of Khamenei's Special Bureau), and Hijazi (head of intelligence in Khamenei's Bureau)."
TME: So it was Khamenei and this special council who decided to kill Said Charafkandi, then secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Iran, (KDPI) in Berlin's Mykonos restaurant, on 17 September 1992. This dirty job was not left to somebody like Fallahian?
Bani Sadr: "Fallahian is a follower of the system: he cannot take life or death decisions without being sure the act is permitted religiously, and that it has a political interest."
TME: And it was the same thing for Ghassemlou (previous secretary-general of the KDPI, murdered in Vienna on 13 July 1989)?
Bani Sadr: It was the same thing - and even clearer, since the people who killed him were sent directly by Rafsanjani himself.
TME: Why are the Iranian leaders killing Kurdish opponents like Said Charafkandi? Are they really a threat to the regime?
Bani Sadr: "No... But the people who are ruling Iran are obsessed by the idea that the Kurds are dependent on their chief. If he is killed, they believe they will scatter and the problem is over. Under the Qadjars and the Pahlavis, it was the same thing. The mullahs are the heirs of these despots. There is another reason, an internal one. This regime feels threatened. By killing its opponents abroad it calls everybody to order.
TME: How many people were involved in Said Charafkandi's murder in Berlin? Bani Sadr: Kazem Darabi (an Iranian) was the operative, acting from his base in Berlin, with the assistance of four Lebanese: Yussef Amin, Abbas Rahil, whose fingerprints were identified on a pistol, Mohammed Atris, and Atallah Ayad. But the chief of the team was Abdul Rahman Bani Hashemi, also known under the name of Sharif. He came to Germany through Poland 10 days before the murder, with a Lebanese passport, and returned to Iran through Lebanon. Like his two brothers, Abdul Rahman Bani Hashemi he works for VAVAK (Ministry of Information and Security). Among the embassy officials, a man called Jafari was also involved."
TME: How did you collect all this information?
Bani Sadr: "Some of the information was collected by my own sources inside Iran, identified under the collective name A. Two other people, two individuals, also testified (before the German prosecutor) anonymously: they are known as B and C.
TME: Who are these sources known as A? Are you saying that 15 years after your departure you still have partisans inside the regime?
Bani Sadr: I still have contacts, not only with my partisans. There are people inside the regime who disagree with its leaders. This way, in 1984, I received information from people close to Ayatollah Hussain Montazeri. Today, they are people close to Ahmed Khomeini (Imam Khomeini's son). They disagree with Khamenei; some were killed, some are in exile, others still live underground in Iran. They have confidence in me. They know that I will distribute the news they send me, and preserve their anonymity.
TME: Who is this famous witness C whose testimony contributed to the prosecutor of Berlin issuing a warrant against Khamenei?
Bani Sadr: I promised not to reveal his name. He should have testified openly in front of the press. It would have been better for him, for his survival, for his-family. He managed to escape from Iran in May 1996, through Pakistan.
TME: And what did Mr C reveal?
Bani Sadr: He knows all the details of how assassination teams operate and explained to the prosecutor that when someone is chosen as the chief of the team - Abdul Rahman Bani Hashemi, in the case of the murder of Said Charafkandi - he gets a letter from the Guide who justifies the murder from a religious and political point of view. Justification for the murder must always be presented in writing and the document is then kept in the archives, as at the time of the Shah. After getting his order the agent sends a team to assess the situation before sending in the executioners. It was witness B who confirmed the chief of the Charafkandi's murder team was Abdul Rahman Bani Hashemi. B knows many things, but he is not free to testify (openly): he still has a large family inside Iran.
TME: Why didn't you publish these revelations earlier?
Bani Sadr: "I wanted to submit a document to the court which tried Shahpur Bakhtyar's murderers in Paris (in 1994). But I was too late, the court had closed its investigation. From the beginning, I collaborated with those investigating the murder of Charafkandi.
TME: Do you think that German justice will close the case?
Bani Sadr: For the time being, there is a very close collaboration between the governments in Bonn and Tehran. But I will not allow a new entente between this regime and the Germans.
TME: What will be the consequences inside Iran if the German prosecutor condemns Khamenei in his verdict?
Bani Sadr: It is the end of the hard wing of the regime. They have enforced their power by violence and it has worked until now, but...the hour of truth is near. Like the Shah's regime, this regime also will realise that violence and blackmail are not working any more, neither inside Iran nor outside.